It’s been five years since I last saw Underworld – a sweaty, triumphant Barrowlands show. In the interim, the band have kept a very low profile, with some soundtrack work and download-only releases the only things to indicate that there was still life in Underworld world. A lot has changed since the group’s mid nineties heyday when they, and acts like Leftfield, the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Orbital and others, looked like establishing themselves as the new music establishment. Dance music, for a number of reasons, underwent a precipitous fall from favour. The superclubs closed one by one, followed by magazines like Muzik and Jockey Slut. Most of the major acts of the time split up or had to get used to selling a fraction of what they had in the past. Bargain bins are stuffed full of Moby and Fatboy Slim albums.
Ironically, so-called ‘faceless’ dance acts were replaced in the public’s affections by a succession of interchangeable, corporate indie guitar drones – safe middle aged music, inexplicably lapped up by teenagers as well as Mail reading Middle England (and ubiquitous, deeply irritating journos like John Harris and Andrew Collins). There do seem to be the stirrings of a fight back, though.
The Academy was packed tonight, and it was pleasing that it wasn’t just a bunch of creaking crinklies like yours truly, but a crowd liberally scattered with punters who’d barely started Primary School when Dubnobasswithmyheadman was unleashed. My concerns that the magic may not still happen evaporated as the trio of Karl Hyde, Rick Smith and Darren Price opened with the very track that made me fall in love with Underworld all those years ago – “Dirty Epic”. It was the start of an intense two hours that gradually built up to an exhausting climax of “Slippy”, “King Of Snake” and “Moaner”. There was plenty of material from Oblivion With Bells, the new album. None of it really stuck in the mind, but it fitted in seamlessly with all the old favourites without allowing the atmosphere to flag. Alongside the reliably good visuals and lights, things on stage went a bit Spinal Tap half way through with the introduction of a load of huge, inflatable light sticks. Whilst there was a pleasing naffness about them, it was all a bit silly with road crew members constantly having to ensure that they didn’t roll over and squash the band. At the end, I was bathed in sweat and utterly exhausted, but grinning from ear to ear – a standard Underworld show, then.
Support came from Errors. It’s the fourth time I’ve seen them, but the first on a stage anything like this size. They seemed to be a bit lost on it. They still have absolutely no on-stage charisma. This doesn’t really matter, though, as their music has come on a long way since their early, stuttering displays of a kind of gauche krautrock. Their meld of guitars and electronica with generous lashings of melody has echoes of Harmonia, Fridge and To Rococo Rot. It’s music for brain and feet, and despite the quartet’s lack of presence, the music is well suited to the bigger arena, and there were plenty dancing along.